Naples, 17 Nov. (AKI) - Three Algerian men arrested in the Italian cities of Naples and Brescia on Tuesday night, suspected of being linked with an Algerian group connected to al-Qaeda, were due to appear before magistrates in Naples on Thursday. The men are suspected of being members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Investigators say they were not just in Italy to provide logistical support such as false documents, but were actually "potential operatives" who were "ready to attack".
Naples named the three arrested suspects as Yamine Bouhrama, Khaled Serai and Mohamed Larbi. They were detained on suspicion of association with the aim of international terrorism, a charge introduced in Italy following the September 11, 2001 attacks in America.
Anti-terrorism Carabinieri officers arrested one man in Naples and the other two in Brescia following three years of surveillance of a GSPC cell by the Italian intelligence service SISMI. The three suspects are believed to have moved around between the cities of Naples, Rome, Brescia and Vicenza.
Bourhama is thought to have undergone training at terrorist camps in Chechnya and Georgia and may be capable of making explosive belts used by suicide bombers.
While under surveillance, Serai is believed to have been followed to Norway, where Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd who heads the radical Islamic militia group Ansar al-Islam, has lived since requesting political asylum in 1991, despite being wanted around the world. The US has accused Ansar al-Islam of offering sanctuary to al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan, including the now leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat is the main armed Islamic organisation in Algeria and its aims are reported to include replacing the Algerian government with an Islamic state and attacking Western interests in the region. The GSPC has been on America's list of "terrorist groups" since 2002 and is said to have extensive contacts in Europe, the US and the Middle East, as well as being linked to the al-Qaeda terror network.
Two of the three Algerians, Yamine Bouhrama and Khaled Serai, allegedly used forged identity papers acquired from France during their stay in Norway, according to Italian police.
One of the Islamists has reportedly trained in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
Italian media reported that the trio was suspected of planning a terrorist attack in Italy.
The men are also suspected of links with the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat, according to an official from the Carabinieri paramilitary police in Naples. The Salafist movement has links to al-Qaida.
On Thursday morning Norway's Police Security Service (PST) was holding a meeting prior to making an official statement. The Italian Ministry of the Interior is also expected to make an announcement about the arrests on Thursday.
The Algerians arrested in Italy are not the only potential terrorists in Norway, security forces said Thursday.
"We know that there are persons in Norway today that can be linked to the terrorist network abroad," Martin Bernsen, information adviser at the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) told Aftenposten.no.
The PST will not disclose how many persons they are referring to, or how many different nationalities are involved.
Bernsen denied that the PST was not aware of the suspects arrested by Italian police on suspicion of terrorism, as Norwegian news agency NTB reported on Thursday.
"We knew about this case in advance. More than that we cannot say," Bernsen said.
Asked if the PST had cooperated with Italian police in this matter, Bernsen would only say that the PST has a close cooperation with the security services of other Nordic and some European nations.